Ever notice how good looking people tend to become better dancers faster? Or maybe it’s that better dancers are just better looking?
Could be just me, but it seems like young, attractive people move up the ranks pretty quickly – more quickly than others, sometimes more quickly than perhaps they should. Sure, there happen to be a lot of young, attractive dancers with a lot of talent, but it still raises some questions about how someone gets better and at what rate.
One could argue that attractive people get better faster because more people ask them to dance. Or maybe they have more confidence and thus are willing to take risks and try new things and become more expressive. Maybe they gain more confidence as they improve, and their confidence is what makes them seem more attractive. Or maybe as they get better they adopt the fashion trends and dress themselves better. Or maybe they just look better or our eyes are drawn to watching them simply because they are more attractive.
The flip side is that people who are better dancers may just be more attractive. A study was done demonstrating just that, and how dancing can be used as a demonstration of genetic fitness, helping us to choose a mate. So maybe the better you are, the more attractive you seem. The pros all seem to be pretty good looking, but maybe we just think that because of their dancing. Would the pros be as attractive if it weren’t for the way they can move?
In competition, looks can certainly play a factor: how you dress, how you present yourself, your attitude, your level of confidence – all of which can also make you more or less attractive. Studies have shown that the part of the brain that ultimately makes decisions is the primitive brain, the part that makes decisions based on primal needs related to survival. We know that while judging is based on certain criteria, there is also a high degree of intuition and emotion that goes into deciding what’s good dancing and what’s not. So despite our rational thoughts about technique and artistry, are judges letting their primal interests sway their judgment? Are judges ultimately making decisions based on their primal desire to procreate? The pretty ones get chosen because we would like to mate with them? What about judges who are the same sex as those they are judging? Are they also judging based on primal instincts, but making decisions not out of a desire to procreate but based on a fear of competition? The pretty ones are competition for mates, so they should be punished/eliminated? And if both forces are at work, shouldn’t they balance out so that attractive people do no better or worse than less attractive people?
Thinking about the last competition I went to, it’s probably just an illusion. If physical attractiveness were objectively measured, there’s probably just as many unattractive people in any division as attractive ones. Still, in a world as social as that of the social dances, attractiveness is likely to play as strong a role as it does in the rest of society. The “halo effect” is a cognitive bias whereby the perception of some positive quality (like attractiveness) gives rise to the perception of similar positive qualities. In this case, people who are attractive may be perceived to be “better” or more qualified than they actually are. Is this same principle being applied to dance? To what extent? What can or should be done about it, or is this just part of the world we live and dance in?